When Anna Brothers’ mother, Mary, was diagnosed with dementia, Anna signed the two of them up for a special choir for people with memory loss and their caregivers.
“My mother always loved to sing, so this seemed like an excellent opportunity for us to do something together every week that would allow us to bond,” says Brothers. “We were thrilled to find that there was such an amazing camaraderie between everyone involved – the people with dementia, their caregivers and the volunteers – and we stayed on for years until my mother passed away during the pandemic.”
The choir that Anna and Mary joined is called the Good Memories Choir, led by husband-and-wife team Jonathan and Sandy Miller, who combined their careers as a choral conductor and psychologist, respectively, to form a choir that will make a long-term difference for people with memory loss and their caregivers.
“Because we don’t identify, with name tags or otherwise, what people’s roles are, you won’t be able to tell who has memory loss and who doesn’t,” says Jonathan Miller. “That lets people know that we’re all in this together. There’s no stigma because no one knows who’s who, and it creates a tremendous level of community and cohesion.”
Jonathan and Sandy Miller started the choir because they knew that musical memories are often preserved in people with memory loss because of the way that music is stored in the brain.
“Studies show that music is stored in so many places in the brain,” says Sandy Miller. “If you think about music, it’s a physical and emotional experience, but it also uses our auditory and visual senses as well, so our memories of music end up being stored in so many places in the brain that it serves as a buffer against dementia. And the amygdala, one of the centers of emotion, is one of the last lobes of the brain to be affected by dementia.”
There is no singing background required to join the choir, and it’s especially intended for people who are experiencing memory loss and who are living independently at home, as well as their caregivers, so that they sing together. Joining the choir offers a dual benefit – both for the person with memory loss, who can avoid isolation by participating in a structured and enjoyable social activity, and for their caregiver, who is able to relax and find respite from their daily caregiving responsibilities.
“We wanted to create a choir where care partners and the person they love can be together having an experience of fun and joy and hopefully, good music too,” says Sandy Miller.
The Millers also offer seven other choirs in the Chicago area for all older adults over 55 as part of their flagship choir program, the Sounds Good Choir. Registration for all in-person choirs began December 6th, runs continuously through the upcoming session that begins the week of January 24th, and can be done on either website.
To register and for more information on the Good Memories Choir, visit www.goodmemorieschoir.org, and for more information about the Sounds Good Choir for all adults over 55, visit www.soundsgoodchoir.org.
To listen to an interview with Jonathan and Sandy Miller and for more stories like this, subscribe to the “Creating the Good with AARP Illinois” podcast on Apple Podcasts, Spotify, Google Podcasts or anywhere you listen to podcasts.